I first met Sulaiman in February 2016 when my new flat in Berlin was being renovated and he was one of the workmen. I learnt that he had fled from Syria in July 2015 and was curious to know more, also about his current situation, in case there was something I could do to help. Back then, between his almost-non-existent, and my rusty, German, communication was difficult but the other workmen helped, and I also got help from another Syrian who already had job, accommodation, and good German.
Sulaiman was desperately looking for somewhere to stay other than in a camp where life can be extremely difficult. His wife and daughters were in a camp in Lebanon, waiting for a visa to join him in Berlin.
It made a big impression on me that he was able to turn up every day with a smile on his face, and it was a pleasure to listen to the quiet Arabic-German language exchange whenever they were working in my flat.
Since then, I have heard more about his flight from Damaskus, where he had his life, and where he lost everything (except his wife and daughters of whom he is clearly very proud), and at one of my house-warming parties he told some of us about his gruelling journey – on foot, then like sardines in a tin in a truck for four days, then likewise on a boat until they were picked up by a container-carrier, then by train from Italy to Berlin, then “living” outside LAGESO (the German authority for refugees) for many days to have his case processed. In other words, a “classic” story which we all hear about all the time, directly and in the media.
His initial accommodation was in one small room which he shared with five other male refugees of different nationalities and without going into detail, tensions arose on a daily basis. The situation was becoming untenable and through his employer, he found a room which he was able to use all by himself, very small (from what I have heard, tiny does not cover it) but at least he could be private and get a full night’s sleep every night and thus be able to hold on to his job.
Sulaiman went to German class every day, but said that the teacher was not very good (there is a severe shortage of trained German teachers here) and he felt he learnt a lot more during the workday. Any which way, communication has become a lot easier.
Needless to say, he was sorely missing his family – wife and two daughters aged six and seven. Earlier this week, he sent me a text message to tell me that a couple of weeks ago, they were FINALLY reunited in Berlin. In terms of collecting heart-warming moments in my life, that one certainly comes close to the top of my list.
Today they are coming to lunch! I am so looking forward to meeting them. I also have not seen Sulaiman for a while since there is not much more work to be done in may flat, and the most recent house-warming party is already a couple of months away.
How do you pick up where you left off after 18 months, especially considering what they have been through in the meantime? How do you heal, individually and as a family, while at the same time tackling the emotional, practical and financial challenges ahead? How are the girls coping? How about accommodation? I am hoping to learn a lot more about that in the future while finding out how I can help. But first: lunch.
By the way, if you are in Berlin and looking for halal meat, Istanbul Supermarket, Kottbusser Tor, is good. There is also a butcher round the corner in Kottbusser Straße. (I am not sure I approve of the method, but until I know how strict – or not – my guests are, I am willing to use halal-butchered meat).
This is some of what we are having:
IN PROGRESS ……..
CHICKEN BRAISED IN SPICES
Ten chicken pieces (I am using thighs and drumsticks)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 brown onions, sliced
100 grams ginger, cut into matchsticks
5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 small red chillies, or to taste
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
5 sprigs thyme, leaves only
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons honey
300 ml chicken or vegetable stock
½ bunch coriander, leaves only
Coat the chicken pieces in the mixture of salt, cumin, cinnamon, pepper and turmeric.
Brown the chicken pieces on all sides in the olive oil. Remove chicken and add onion, ginger, garlic and chili and cook for a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes, cumin seeds and thyme and cook for another couple of minutes.
Return chicken and add the lemon juice and zest, honey, stock powder and enough water to just cover the chicken.
Cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for another ten to 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through, and the sauce is slightly reduced.
Stir in the coriander and serve with couscous or rice.
100 g onion, chopped
At least one clove garlic, chopped
1 chili, chopped
400 g aubergine, cut in 2 cm dice
50 g dates, quartered
50 g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped and dry-roasted
1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1 tsp sumak
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds, roasted and ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
1 tblsp tomato paste
300 ml chicken or vegetable stock
Heat the oil and lightly fry cumin, sumak, cardamom and coriander. Add onion and garlic and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add aubergine and chili for another couple of minutes. Add stock and tomato paste, stir, cover and simmer for about ten minutes.
Add nuts and dates, stir well, turn off heat and let sit for ten minutes.
Serve with rice or couscous and yoghurt mixed with herbs (f.ex. mint).